Posts Tagged Impatiens capensis

Recently Sighted Fauna and Flora

Northern Cricket Frog?

In the last two weeks, a new species of frog has been hanging out on the edge of our little front yard water feature. Yesterday, two were sitting on opposite sides of the pond. Both are about three inches long, and this zoomed-in photo I took makes me think they are Northern Cricket Frogs.

This species is common in my wetland, but I’ve never seen them sitting on the edge of my little front pond before this year. I think perhaps they were born in the pond and recently emerged. They’re probably waiting for a rain event to disperse to less exposed areas. I was surprised by the lumpy texture on such petite amphibians.

A couple of new butterfly species have flitted through in the last couple of weeks. They didn’t stay long in one place, so my pictures are not optimal. But I think I have identified them correctly.

Monarch butterfly

I almost walked into this Monarch butterfly as it was sipping from my row of lantanas. Of course, it flew away before I could take its picture. It then briefly landed on the Chinese Abelia, which is where I managed to snap a very quick shot before it dashed off. I haven’t seen one since then. My Swamp Milkweed didn’t fare well this year. The July heat wave and drought made it surrender without blooming. I’m hoping to add at least one more species of milkweed to another area — a species that’s more heat- and drought-tolerant.

Another brief visitor to the vegetable garden was this battered specimen:

Great Spangled Fritillary?

A few of this species have visited my yard off and on throughout the summer. This one stopped to sip from a bean flower just long enough for me to snap its photo. I think it’s a Great Spangled Fritillary, but I confess the fritillaries look very much alike to me. I’m mostly basing my guess on my location.

The most interesting recent faunal encounter was a love story, well, perhaps more of a lust story. I spotted a male Writing Spider dancing at the edge of a female’s web. I saw him there two days in a row before he vanished. My research tells me that if he successfully courted the female, he either died soon after or was devoured by his lover.

The male is always much smaller. He’s the spider in the upper right corner of this photo.

The plants have been busy too. Most are finalizing fruit production. The native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) set an unusually large number of gorgeous red berries this year. I think the fruit-loving birds will be pleased when they notice, if they haven’t already.

The berries in this shot are on a 12′ x 6′ shrub full of crimson-berry-laden branches.

As is always the case, the branches of my Two-winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera) are adorned by zillions of the large “two-winged” fruits from which its common name arises. When they are fully ripe, they turn brown, and soon after, squirrels devour every fruit.

When the squirrels tire of dining on acorns, they turn to the fruits of Two-winged Silverbell.

Flowers still abound also. I’ve come to expect Jewelweed’s (Impatiens capensis) arrival in late summer/early fall. Sure enough, it’s popping up in abundance right on schedule. Especially dense thickets line our side of the creek. In deep drought years, the water-rich stems of this wildflower are irresistible to thirsty deer. This year, we either have fewer deer, or they’re not as thirsty, because the Jewelweed is blooming enthusiastically from one end of the floodplain to the other.

The plants in this patch were about an inch shorter than me.

One recent bout of flowering was a surprise. My two white-blooming Florida Anise-trees (Illicium floridanum ‘Alba’) reside beneath dense shade that protects them from western and southern sunshine. I think that location, combined with off-and-on measurable rainfall for most of August, triggered a second round of blooming in these evergreen shrubs. Interestingly, I planted one of their red-blooming cousins (Halley’s Comet) in the same location, but it did not rebloom.

Sometimes when you see a second round of blooms from a shrub in the fall, its spring blooms are less impressive, because the plant spent much of its energy on autumn flowers. It will be interesting to observe how many flowers my albas produce next spring. For now, we are enjoying the unexpected bonus of glowing white star-like flowers against deep green leaves.

August blooms of Illicium floridanum ‘Alba’

As I observe my landscape transitioning from summer to fall, my prayers go out to the folks enduring a visit from what was Hurricane Isaac until quite recently. Hurricane Fran was the beast folks in my region still talk about; forests still show clear signs of the damage caused by her winds and water. Mother Nature is indeed capricious, simultaneously bestowing unexpected flowers and unforeseen chaos in different parts of our country.

Here’s hoping Isaac is the last hurricane to make landfall in the United States this year.

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Autumn Jewels of the Floodplain

Jewelweed Flower with Friend

When I took this photo, I didn’t even notice the spider hiding below the flower, waiting for an unsuspecting pollinator to drop by and become its dinner. All my attention was on the bloom of this lovely native wildflower common to our moist, shady woodlands. Most folks I know call it Jewelweed, probably because the yellow and orange flowers glow like gems among its tall, succulent stems and green scalloped leaves. Another name is Spotted Touch-Me-Not, and I’ll tell you why in a moment. The botanists call this wildflower Impatiens capensis.

My floodplain is covered in large stands of this tall (2-5 feet) wildflower this year — the first year I’ve been able to say that in about seven or so years. In recent years, the deer population has been so heavy that these plants were chomped before they ever got a chance to bloom. But this year (knock wood), the deer seem much less abundant.

I suspect I can thank the enormous 1000-acre suburb being erected by a California developer just a mile or so from my house. A few years ago, when the bulldozers erased the mature forest on that spot, all the displaced deer moved to my yard — or at least that’s how it seemed to me. For a few years, those displaced deer were so hungry that they ate everything — even the poisonous plants like pokeweed and Mayapple.  But now, deer browsing is much less severe. I think the deer have gone back to graze on the newly planted lawns and fertilized shrubs planted by the California development company. Given a choice between fertilized ornamental plants and native growth, I’ve observed that deer will eat the fertilized goodies every time. Frankly, I’d rather have the thousand acres of forest back. But since I can’t, it seems only fair that the deer have returned to graze their old stomping grounds.

Now my Jewelweeds flourish in every corner of my floodplain. See how the back end of the flower in the photo above tapers to a point? That’s custom built for hummingbird dining pleasure. They zip among the flowers sipping nectar as soon as the flowers start blooming in late June. Migrant hummers passing through to their winter homes south of here can spot my stands of Jewelweed easily. I like knowing I help ease their travels. The last straggler is long gone before frost kills these long-blooming wildflowers.

As for the Touch-Me-Not designation, that’s because of their nifty seed pods. These longish pods swell as the seeds develop. When they’re mature, the lightest touch causes them to explosively split open and shoot their seeds in all directions. It’s great fun to coax the pods into exploding between your fingers. I’ve never met a child or adult who isn’t instantly enthralled by this activity. Here’s a shot of flowers and pods:

Jewelweed flowers and seed pods

Now you’ll know what to look for when you spot these distinctive yellow and orange flowers. The fatter the seed pod, the more violent the explosion. No wonder the flowers spread themselves around — those seeds travel quite a ways when the pods pop.

Butterflies and bees also love these flowers, and the juice of the stems is purported to cure the itch of poison ivy rashes. I’ve never tried this, but I know some folks who swear by this remedy. Jewelweed conveniently tends to grow in the same kinds of places that poison ivy likes, so you may one day find yourself in a position to try this folk cure. The juice also has documented fungicidal properties and has been used to cure Athlete’s Foot. I’ve never had the need to try that remedy either.

But even if this lovely wildflower had no medicinal properties, it would be worth adding to your moist shady spots for the hummingbirds and other pollinators — and to light up your shaded areas with their warm jewel-like colors.

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